Last week, I visited my brother and his family in Dallas. Our family was dealt a surprise a few weeks ago. He has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He is 48 years old.

If you were to look at the type of people who are usually at risk for pancreatic disease, he doesn’t fit any of them until you reach the last one. This list includes:

  • 60-75 years of age
  • Smoker
  • Overweight
  • Pancreatitis
  • Diabetes
  • African American
  • BRCA-2 gene

He only found out that he has the BRCA-2 this week. Our Aunt died of ovarian cancer a few years ago – I wrote about her here. Her tenacity led me to getting tested.

My brother considered doing it a few years ago – we talked about it, but he opted to wait thinking that his children were too young and he could do it later. I only wish he had done it earlier.

A few months ago, he had the classic symptoms of pancreatic cancer. It began with a back ache and progressed into stomach pains. He had been to the doctor and there were tests, but no one figured out what was causing it. If the doctors had known he had the BRCA-2 marker, there might have been a chance of catching it earlier.

Then one night, the pain was so severe, his wife took him to the emergency room. He brought a copy of the previous CT scan he had on a CD disc and when they took a second CT, they found it – the tumor.

His diagnosis is stage 2; however, the tumor is inoperable at the moment because of its location. For simplicity sake, the nasty tumor had decided to wrap itself around one his veins and here is evidence it has might have be around his artery. The first maybe operable; the second is not depending on how much of the artery is covered.

Since then, his life has been filled with visits to doctors for pain, general intestine, oncology and all the support systems. The plan is to use chemotherapy to try and reduce the size and hopefully be able to operate.

The effect on the family is just as significant. Often people focus on the sick and forget that the family is suffering, sometimes silently, hoping to be remain positive and supportive. The fact is it that the illness affects them too and it is OK to acknowledge it as an outsider and between each other within the family unit.

I was there right after my brother had his first treatment. He told me he just wanted the family to get back to “normal” – the routines before the illness and when the extended family descended upon them to offering their support and yes – a bit of disruption.

“Your normal is gone. It is time for you and the family to make a new normal.” I said. “The new normal may include some of what you have done; it will surely include new routines that will be with you for months and possibly your lifetime.”

It can be that quick that something unexpected changes our lives. I think about the times when I might have fought something that I did not like happening to me and how eventually I had to deal with it. Sometimes we have the luxury to wrestle it down to the ground and may still lose the battle without implications. And then there are the times when we should have taken action quicker because procrastination makes it harder to move to the new normal.